Cashew Cream

If you would have asked me a few months ago if there was any way to really compete with dairy versions of macaroni and cheese or fettucini alfredo, I would have honestly told you no. Giving up those foods is a small price to pay for the benefits of a plant-based diet, but buttery cheesy cream sauce has no vegan counterpart.

Those words I am now happy to eat.

Since I made this on my own a few weeks ago, I’ve kept a constant supply and eaten far more than I care to admit (though my bathing suit won’t lie).  It is unbelievably EASY and outrageously delicious. I’ve also received a higher-than-average number of party invitations. And while my cute shoes and witty banter are understandably in demand, I can’t help but wonder if my presence is only a bonus to the gift of the cashew cream dip I always bring.

It is the perfect, versatile cream sauce. Use cashew cream with pastas and pizzas, creamy soups, homemade dips and drizzled directly on steamed vegetables. (And I haven’t even begun to explore how plain cashew cream can be used in deserts, icing, fruit sauces and more.) Or just grab a spoon and eat it sans distractions.

While it had me at hello, there are many reasons why cashew cream is not the naughty indulgence that it tastes like. Dairy cream sauces contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol and over 700 calories/serving (with pasta). And while no one is going to mistake this as diet food, it has less than 200 calories per 2 ounce serving. And you can cut those calories by substituting half the cashews for tofu or white beans.

Cashews contain high amounts of omega fatty acids, B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, vitamin K and contain no saturated fats or cholesterol. Nutritional yeast flakes are mostly protein with some fiber and contain massive amounts of B-vitamins, so weekly consumption of this is not a bad idea.

Soak raw cashews in a bowl for a few hours. They absorb the water just like dried beans and turn white, perfect for cream! Rinse them in a colander, place them in a blender, add water to cover them and puree for several minutes. Depending on what you’re making, use 1/2 pound to a full pound. Trick of my trade: I order raw cashews online in bulk–2 or 5 pounds–and soak the whole batch at once. Store in the freezer in serving size baggies.

Nutrional yeast flakes can be difficult to find. If you live close to a health food store or food co-op, they will have them there. There are several great brands available on Amazon with one-click ease. These are essential to the taste and add the ‘cheesy’ pungent flavor in cashew cream.

Next is garlic. Use a lot. Raw, freshly chopped is best, but store-prepared is fine too. I usually add a whole bulb. If previous attempts with real garlic conjure memories of stinky hands and watery eyes, understand that practice makes perfect. And maybe you’re just doing it wrong. Watch my 30 second how-to video.

Finally, season with your favorite herbs. Of course, fresh is best, so if you have a garden full of basil, thyme, oregano and parsley, then you win! But dried will do. In addition, 1-2 tbsp of mustard powder is my secret ingredient that gives the flavor a real kick.

Add the yeast, garlic and seasonings to the blender. Give it a whirl and a lick and fine tune your flavor. You’re the artist!

That’s it. No cooking required! It can be heated, baked or added to sauté as needed.

Here’s my favorite cashew cream recipe!

1 cup pre-soaked cashews (sub tofu or white beans for half the cashews to cut calories or cost)
1-2 cups water (depending on how thick you want it–start with less and add more)
1/2 cup yeast flakes
2 cloves of chopped garlic (If raw garlic bothers you, as it does me, substitute 1 tbsp garlic salt)
1 tbsp. each of dried basil, oregano, thyme, black pepper
1Tbsp ground mustard powder
1 tsp. salt (more if needed)

Mix in high-speed blender. Taste. If it’s bland for your pallet, add more yeast flakes, another tsp. of ground mustard. Maybe more salt. If you aren’t serving it as a dip, heat in a sauce pan on very low, stirring frequently and adding water if it’s too thick. Add to steamed veggies, pasta, bread or soup. My favorite treat is to use as a white cream sauce on pizza or alfredo sauce over spaghetti squash.

Please share your results!